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The Danish designer Cecilie Bahnsen has carefully crafted her signature aesthetic from sculptural silhouettes, unique hand-designed fabrications, and a touch of romantic whimsy. On first being introduced to Bahnsen’s designs, one might think the dress-heavy collections were meant for formal occasions only. But after seeing the full-skirted garments styled down—think tousled hair and thick, sporty sandals or sneakers—it becomes clear that Bahnsen has mastered the art of chic, comfortable, versatile dress.
Instead of starting anew each season, Bahnsen revisits her timeless styles and a black-and-white palette, updating and perfecting with fresh textures and colors informed by her current inspiration—as in Spring/Summer 2020, when she was inspired by the artists Jeanne-Claude and Christo, or Fall/Winter 2020, which looked at the photographs of Martina Hoogland Ivanow.
Building her foundation at London’s Royal College of Art before working in Paris couture, Bahnsen returned to her home of Copenhagen to launch her eponymous label in 2015. Today the designer continues to grow her business while embarking on a new adventure—motherhood.
Whitewall spoke to Bahnsen about romance, volume, and a comfortable feminine form.
WHITEWALL: What was the design process behind your Studio 2021 collection? Has the pandemic impacted your production process?
CECILIE BAHNSEN: The Studio collection is really unique, as it was designed during lockdown. We focused on the virtuous concepts of upcycling and repurposing, as we work to implement different initiatives to reduce waste and challenge the industry’s overproduction within the brand.
WW: In a time where women have more freedom than ever, how do you feel your clothing intersects with a modern-day interpretation of femininity?
CB: Women are taking a more relaxed and effortless approach to fashion. With one of our dresses, you can wear it to a party on the weekend then throw it on when Monday comes around just because that’s what you want to wear. There is less saving something for a special occasion and more a sense of showing how you can wear the same thing in different ways and in your own interpretation.
I have always been drawn to femininity and a romantic way of dressing. For me, there is power and strength in romance and femininity. Clothes should be made for women to feel comfortable, independent, and themselves.
WW: How did you begin making your own fabrics for each collection?
CB: I have always been drawn to embroidery and textiles development, and it is often in this process I find a lot of my inspiration. It’s about clothes made by hand with mastery of the old ways, bringing the intricate detail of a couture house into life.
I also love working closely with our fabric manufactures from the Como region of Italy. While visiting their archives and mills, we work together, giving new breath to a forgotten traditional technique.
WW: How does Scandinavian design influence your approach?
CB: The feminine and modern universe of Cecilie Bahnsen mixes emotion, romance, and inherent beauty with the openness, simplicity, and pragmatism of my Danish heritage. It’s always been my dream to start my own brand, but I also knew that it was important to learn and gain as much knowledge as possible beforehand.
My experiences living in London and Paris taught me so much about what it takes to establish yourself as a designer. It also gave me so much inspiration and passion for design and quality. But, when it came to choose the base for my brand, it has always been Denmark and Copenhagen. It is my home, and I love the pace and design tradition.
WW: You’ve said that instead of reinventing yourself each season, you aim to refine and evolve existing styles to ft the current mood. How do you continue to incorporate new inspiration while staying true to the distinctive aesthetic you’ve created for yourself?
CB: Each season I try to curate the universe, building on our signature pieces—the sculptural dresses, architectural silhouettes, puffed sleeves, peplums, bows, ribbons, and ruffles. The color palette is mainly black and white, and then I add freshness and purity with flourishes of color, new for each season.
I always try to stay true to the brand’s universe but like to challenge myself and push the designs and develop in the details to be stronger each season. For SS20 we added tailoring as a contrast to the sculptural dresses, and for AW20 we added heavier knitwear and outerwear to the collection, building on both my Nordic roots and ways to enrich the brand’s DNA.
WW: Can you tell us about your studio space?
CB: The design studio and showroom are based in Copenhagen Østerbro, the quieter part of town. The showroom is simple and minimalistic with furniture designed by my friend Magniberg and vases with flowers by Nina Nørgaard. The design studio is a little messier, full of fabric rolls, swatches, samples, inspiration, stock mannequins, and sewing machines. There is always a buzz in this room; it is one of my favorite places in the world.
WW: What’s a typical day like for you there?
CB: Running a young brand, every day is different. In a day we will work on everything from production, logistics, and sales to the actual development of the collections, textiles, and silhouettes.
WW: Why is timelessness important for you?
CB: I believe women are becoming more cautious of quality and craftsmanship rather than what’s on trend. For me, it is important that my designs are timeless; I love the idea that a mother would one day hand down her dress to her daughter.
WW: How are you thinking about sustainability within the brand?
CB: I think the beauty of good design lies both in the look and the considered process. As Cecilie Bahnsen grows into an international brand, we are mindful of what we stand for. At the heart of it is making clothes for the women who recognize themselves in our designs, who feel a sisterhood to the brand. We do it with care, thoughtfully.
We always work with craftspeople in Europe preserving traditions and techniques that have been held in communities for centuries. When it comes to producing, we avoid creating stock and leftover fabric.
WW: Congratulations on welcoming your first child! How is motherhood treating you? Was it difficult to transition back into being a designer alongside this new role?
CB: Motherhood has brought a new perspective to life, both personally and professionally. I have never really divided my time between my private and work life, and now in motherhood I am lucky to find inspiration for both. I think motherhood will continue to inspire me to create designs with value for generations, and makes even more urgent the efforts that we as a brand are making toward repurposing and limiting waste in this field.